The pain started in June 2020, a curious pain in the right shoulder of a busy man.
“I haven’t thought about it too much,” says Craig Romano, author of over two dozen Pacific Northwest trail guides and a seemingly tireless hiker and runner who hikes 20-mile days in the mountains so regularly. that most of us take it. laps in the product sections of supermarkets.
“Because of [coronavirus-caused] lock, I had used the computer a lot, so I thought maybe the pain was due to overuse of typing, ”says Romano. “I started physical therapy and felt some improvement. But it never really went away.
Yet last summer Romano, 59 at the time, maintained a generally ambitious hiking and running program, covering 325 miles in August alone as part of his annual Hike-a fundraiser. -Thon for the Washington Trails Association. He spent much of last summer collecting fresh data, mile by mile, for future book updates. The second edition of his “Backpacking Washington” guide was published this spring by Mountaineers Books.
“The pain was still there, but I could carry a backpack,” says Romano. “I still felt good, but I couldn’t lift with my right arm. I was losing my range of motion as the fall progressed. One October morning, I couldn’t even turn my neck.
“I was going slower in November. I had a hard time bending over to put on my socks and couldn’t lift my arms above my head. I couldn’t sleep on my side. It was atrocious.
Romano has run over 30 marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 1991, and several ultra-distance races, such as the White River 50 Mile Endurance Race at Crystal Mountain (conquered on his 50th birthday). Dealing with the discomfort was nothing new to him.
Yet it was different. When your life’s work revolves around high energy activity, what do you do when your body turns on you?
“It scared me,” says Romano, who searched medical websites for clues. “I was actually afraid to start looking for things because I was afraid of what I might find. I thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe this is the end for me.’ “
And then there is her 6 year old son.
“When I decided to be a dad late in life, I never thought my age would be a barrier to anything,” says Romano. “I had planned to live an amazing life doing things with him.
“We play ball, kick and run. I am 60 years old and I take her on 20 km hikes. He’ll be a teenager when I’m 70, and I thought we were going to do all this beautiful trail and ride a bike. But what if her father becomes weakened? How awful. It all went through my mind. It hit me hard. ”
The last straw came when a 15 mile run with friends from the running club proved too much. “Normally it’s easy, but I gave up after a few kilometers,” he says. “I was like, ‘What’s going on here? That’s when I went to my doctor.
Two weeks of antibodies (to counter possible infection) did nothing. But a prescribed anti-inflammatory corticosteroid called prednisone did it.
“I took the pill that morning and in the afternoon I felt better. After a few days the pain was gone, ”he says. “I headed to the Columbia River Gorge a few days later for a four day hike, and was climbing hills again. After being unable to run or even sleep, I felt like I was born again.
Romano, whose Calves the size of Rainier bear proof of the more than 40,000 kilometers his legs have traveled, suffers from a condition known as polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). “I just thought it was muscle pain,” he says. “No one initially thinks that an inflammatory autoimmune disease is taking hold of them.”
Stress, from COVID-19 to political resentment to the death of her beloved cat, may have sparked the illness, Romano speculates. PMR has no cure, so taking medication (in progressively lower doses) may be a long-term necessity. One of the most concerning potential side effects of prednisone for Romano is weight gain.
“For me, this is one of the worst things that can happen because I have been physically active my whole life,” he says. (He took his first of three coast-to-coast bike rides at the age of 18). “I am more worried now about the medicine than the disease. “
Romano reshuffled his diet, ditching processed foods and in fact lost 11 pounds since starting treatment. “In the past summers, I was shaking after my runs,” he says. “I just had one for the first time in six months. I had to cut a lot of stuff.
The fear of health changed Romano on other levels as well.
“It was a revelation,” he says. “Once I took the meds and got my life back, I realized I wasn’t going to wait for anything anymore. Time is running out to get things done at my peak physical performance.
“I knew I would slow down at some point in my life. I didn’t think it would come so suddenly. The fact that I can get out now and run 30 miles on a trail and feel great is liberating. This is what I live for. Losing that and then getting it back with medicine helps me realize that every day is a blessing. Now I’m going to shake things up.
One goal: to commemorate his 60th birthday in May by returning to his home state of New Hampshire and, to the White Mountains (where he once spent a summer as a backcountry ranger), completing the demanding presidential crossing – 19.5 miles, 8,600 vertical feet, seven summits and two sub-summits. All in 14 hours.
“The family and I were going to spend three days on Cape Cod,” says Romano. “The more I thought about it, the more I was like, ‘It’s not me. I don’t take passive vacations. When is it [Romano, his two brothers, his nephew and another friend] came with the presidential crossing. It would be amazing. And because we had an amazing day of beautiful spring weather, it was.
In August, as part of his Hike-a-Thon 2021 campaign, Romano outdid himself with a 41-mile day-run around Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail (with 10,000 cumulative vertical feet). He and his friend Peter Clitherow left Timberline Lodge at 5 a.m., counterclockwise.
“When we started I thought it would be like the Wonderland Trail, nice and maintained with bridges over all the creeks,” he says. “Then I found a large section of downed trees, and no bridges, and since it was 80 degrees, the crossings were up to my waist. I thought, ‘What did I just agree to do?’ “
Despite crossing three deep, swift streams (a difficult task for the 5-foot-7-inch Romano), the pair finished at dusk after 15 hours and 42 minutes. “Halfway, I told Peter that we were not will end up in the dark, ”he said.
Romano’s main takeaways: stay positive (“I realize more that a lot of people face emotional and physical suffering that others cannot see, and that has forced me to let people down and to not to make judgments ”); cherish your time (“It made me so much more grateful to really live for now”); and enhance your health.
“Because I’ve been active and healthy my whole life, it made a big difference when I’ve been touched by something like this,” he says. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself or get angry because none of it will matter. You have to say, ‘OK, this is the reality. What can I do to live well? ‘
“If you’re young, be proactive. Do not wait. You need to move. Eating too much and being inactive is going to catch up with you one way or another. There are so many factors in life that you cannot control, ”says Romano. “But what you eat, be active, be positive and sleep well; these are all things you can control. They make a huge difference to a healthy life, whether you are 20 or 70 years old.
The prolific guidebook and hiker author proclaims “movement is body lotion” and hopes her story, and others like it, will inspire people to get out and get moving, regardless of age or age. their state of health.
“Through an online PMR forum, I connected with a guy in UK who is 70 with PMR, and he runs 100 mile road races. It inspired me. So I want to do the same for people.
“I didn’t ask for this, but I’m still positive. I do not have a choice. It’s part of my journey.